By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 17, 2010; C02
To borrow a meteorological metaphor, Bob Ryan is starting to see the clouds lifting and some sunny skies ahead.
The veteran weather forecaster -- a fixture on WRC (Channel 4) for three decades -- says he's jumping to rival WJLA (Channel 7) for a new owner, a new attitude and a fresh start after some frustrating times at his old station. Ryan will begin work at ABC7 on Monday, joining another local weather veteran, Doug Hill, an old friend who recruited Ryan.
In addition to getting back on the air after a two-month layoff, Ryan, 67, says he can't wait to develop the weather pages for WJLA owner Allbritton Communications' forthcoming local news Web site, called TBD.com. Ryan is a pioneer in digital weather forecasting, having started one of the first local weather sites, Weathernet4.com, in 1996.
But when WRC's owner, NBC Universal, bought the Weather Channel and Weather.com two years ago and standardized weather reporting on all its stations' Web sites, Ryan's digital progeny was smothered. That's when he began thinking about life after News4.
"I've got a lot of fondness for the people at NBC, but this is an opportunity to do something really exciting," Ryan said Sunday. "There are a lot of interesting new ways of utilizing local people, people you trust, to deliver information on the Internet."
Ryan will take the 11 p.m. shift on Channel 7, and Hill will handle the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. duties. Under his multiyear contract with Channel 7, Ryan will appear with Hill on air during "severe" weather events, such as blizzards and major storms.
It was Hill's idea to lure Ryan to 7. The two have been friends for about 25 years, and began talking "what-ifs," according to Hill, about a year ago. Among the benefits for Hill will be a shorter workday; in addition to his late-afternoon and late-night TV work, Hill does radio forecasts on WTOP for about seven hours each day, finishing up at midnight. Ryan's hiring will end Hill's late nights.
Local TV news is beset by many of the same problems that have affected newspapers, from declining audiences to diminishing advertising. Weather forecasts are typically the most important element of local news, according to viewer surveys. With Ryan and Hill, WJLA will have "an unbeatable combination" offering viewers "a legendary weather presence" on its main newscasts, said Bill Lord, the station's general manager and news director.
Ryan was represented by Washington lawyer Robert Barnett, who also negotiated contracts for Hill and anchors Gordon Peterson and Maureen Bunyan after they left WUSA (Channel 9) to join WJLA.
Ryan was cagey about his plans for TBD, which will compete against The Washington Post and other local news sources, but he said working on it was an exciting prospect for "a somewhat aging forecaster." For one thing, he said, the site will be under local control and won't be subject to the whims of a distant corporation, as his work at WRC often was.
"If we'd never had Weathernet4 and had all that independence and not been at the cutting edge of things, I suppose I would not have been frustrated" at WRC, he said. "Well, frustrated may be too strong a word. But it's certainly different when you can walk down the hall and see the guy who's writing the checks instead of having to send e-mails up to New York to the people who report" to other executives.